30 March 2010

The Secrecy of an Overseas Vote

Today in my mail was an air-mailed letter from the Elections Department, informing me that my application to be an overseas voter was approved. Why they had to send me a physical letter when they could've saved some money and use email instead is puzzling to me.

But anyway, this reminds me of a conversation I had yesterday with a couple of Singaporeans here in Canberra. Somehow, the elections came into the discussion, and we arrived at the issue of the secrecy of our votes.

I am fairly confident -- not that I give a damn -- that the individual vote is secret. But it is widely known that, because vote counting is done independently for each polling district, the election officials (and the witnesses from each party) know the distribution of the votes for that district.

Of course, this does not present too much of a problem in Singapore, since there are probably thousands of voters in each district. But as an overseas voter, my vote goes to the district I'm registered in (through my home address). And the counting of overseas votes is done separately when the votes are flown back to Singapore (assuming the procedure is the same as in 2006; see PDF link).

So unless there are a million overseas voter flooding down to Singapore High Commission in Canberra when the election comes, chances are that I am the only one -- or at most, one of the few -- from my district amongst all the overseas votes coming from Canberra. In fact, in the 2006 general elections, there were only 137 voters in Canberra (see PDF link). How secret is my vote then?

Even if overseas votes are counted on the constituency level and not separated down to districts, the size is still small enough to make some people worry.

On the other hand, the oveaseas votes will only matter if the vote difference between the contesting parties is less than the total number of registered overseas voters for that constituency. Since it is unlikely that the vote discrepency can get that small, chances are that the overseas vote makes no difference. I'm not sure if they'll still be counted nonetheless though, but I doubt so since I cannot find any information on the overseas votes results.

28 March 2010

Earth Hour: A Confession

No, this is not a soppy apology by an environmentalist for not obeying this symbolic event. Quite on the contrary, I cycled to Chiefley Meadows on campus yesterday -- a 15 min journey through poorly-lit paths -- to join in the countdown at ANU.

But that's not the point. The confession is on the fact that I realised I have been rather harsh on the organisers and supporters of Earth Hour. Previously, despite being an environmentalist, I have hardly been a huge supporter of Earth Hour, seeing it as a useless symbolic gesture that achieved little practical results. In my eyes, I saw it as a feel-good initiative for people to pretend that they had done their part for the environment.

In fact, I have once written elsewhere that,

I just think that this Earth Hour will not change people’s habit. First, with regards to the point of increase awareness, I do seriously think that the time for awareness is over.


The challenge for environmentalists now is to get people to be more environmentally friendly in their actions, either by persuasion or by coercion (e.g. through laws).

And my point was that Earth Hour does not achieve that, because it is at best an hour of fun and games for most people, and after that they will resume their normal energy consumption. And therefore, whenever someone calls Earth Hour an environmental action, I feel insulted because it kinda trivialises the changes I've made on my lifestyle.

But on further reflection, I realise that my reaction is unjustified. Specifically, if I feel insulted, it is because I held an elitist view of the label "environmentalist" as well as the environmental movement. I treated it as some exclusive club where entry is earned by making significant changes to its members' lives.

True, most people will not change their lives because of Earth Hour, but it may serve as a rallying call for people to join in. It may remind them to turn off the lights when they leave the room. It may persuade them to choose a more environmentally friendly alternative (e.g. CFL instead of incandescent bulbs). It may even convince a few to live a lifestyle that is gentler to the Earth.

However slight each of their contributions are, they will add up and make a difference.

And that, I now think, is a good reason to support Earth Hour. I should drop my severely stuck-up view of environmentalism and support action that helps the environment. After all, environmentalism is more than climate change -- which is under siege by scientifically-unfounded skepticism; there are many pressing environmental issues such as light pollution and vanishing biodiversity that Earth Hour will have an effect as well.

And thus, the title of this post, Earth Hour: A Confession.